Regardless of your fitness goals, squats NEED to be part of your training routine — that is, if you are serious about getting results.
What type of results? Well, squats are excellent for building muscle, gaining strength, improving function, increasing flexibility and boosting metabolic rate.
Squats recruit many major muscle groups including: quadriceps, hamstrings, low and mid back, and glutes. These muscle groups make up the majority of your body, which makes the squat a tremendous “bang for your buck” exercise.
Unfortunately, even with all of these amazing benefits, the majority of trainees still choose not to do them. Their excuses are:
1) “Squats require hard work.” Now, I personally love working hard and reaping the rewards of it. But fear of hard work has many trainees shamelessly running away from the squat rack and towards the useless leg extension machine in a hurry.
2) “Squats are dangerous.” This is usually just a fake excuse made up by people who don’t want to work hard (see reason 1).
Now, for those of who aren’t allergic to working hard, read on! I’m going to show you exactly how to do squats properly so you can maximize your results safely and effectively.
Bar set up- The bar height should be set between your nipples and your collarbones.
Bar placement- A low bar position will help you squat heavier, but it can beat up your shoulders and bicep tendons. That is precisely why I recommend keeping the bar high up on the traps.
Grip- Grab the bar with as narrow a grip as you comfortably can. Keeping your hands narrow makes it easier to keep your upper back tight. This brings us to our next point.
Get tight- Actively flex the muscles in your upper back while lifting your chest up. This will lock in a strong and safe spinal position during the lift.
Actual unracking- Set both feet directly under the bar with a shoulder width stance. Next, externally rotate your feet between 5-20 degrees. Do a mini squat to unrack the bar.
Step back- Take ONE step back with the left leg followed by ONE step back with the right leg. Be sure to reset your feet to the shoulder width stance.
Now you’re ready to squat!
Neck- I know your high school gym teacher wanted you to look up at the ceiling. This is incorrect squat form.
Instead, be sure to keep your neck in a neutral position.
This can be best accomplished by locking your eyes on the point where the wall meets the floor.
Low Back- Your lower back must remain neutral throughout each rep. To ensure this position is maintained, consciously squeeze your chest up.
Break at the hips first- During the initiation of a squat, you have two choices on where to “break”, the hip or the knee. This point is argued to death, but for no good reason.
The ONLY way to squat effectively and safely is to use a hip break. This essentially means that you will begin the squat by sticking your butt back instead of shooting your knees forward.
This allows better activation of the glutes and hamstrings and puts less stress on the knees. Win-win.
Maintain proper knee alignment- Your knees must track inline with your toes. To be specific, keep your knees inline with your second toe throughout the entire range of motion.
Stay on your heels- If you respect the “break at the hips first” rule, this rule will be easier to adhere to. Staying on your heels is critical for knee health and hamstring/glute activation.
Lower to parallel or slightly lower- Most squatters only do half squats. This is a big mistake. Half squats don’t allow adequate recruitment of all muscles involved. This leads to muscle imbalances, which will contribute to tightness, loss of function, and increased risk of injury.
Full squats (below parallel) are a completely different story. For those of you who don’t know, a full squat is achieved when your hips reach a position that is lower than your knees.
In other words, when looking from the side, the crease of your hip will be at a lower than the horizontal plane that your knees are in.
Use a controlled rebound- Don’t get me wrong! You should not violently bounce while in the bottom position. Instead, use a controlled yet quick change of direction.
This will allow you to take advantage of the stretch reflex while still remaining safe and in control.
Keep your back angle constant- If you were watching yourself from the side, you’d notice that for every inch your hips rise there should be an inch rise in your shoulders as well.
It is all too common to witness guys shoot up their hips and essentially finish their squat by doing a “good morning” movement.
Keep your knees out- It is during the lifting phase that most trainees allow their knees to collapse inwards. Just keep your feet planted into the ground and focus on pushing your knees out.
Push from your heels- This point is so important that I decided to reiterate it again here. Keep your weight on your heels and drive yourself up from there.
The Repeat Phase
Lock your knees out in the top- If you’re training for maximal strength, go to full extension and pause for a second before beginning your next repetition. This allows you to reset your position and breath.
Don’t lock your knees out in the top- If you’re training for pure hypertrophy (muscle building), endurance or metabolic work, do not lock your knees on in the top range. Instead, rise up until your knees are 95% locked out and immediately drop into the next repetition.
Here’s a video I shot to give you a visual of many of the points made in this article:
With the exceptions of “unracking the bar” and “bar placement”, these tips are critical for every style of squatting. From bodyweight squats to KB goblet squats to barbell squats, these tips will ensure maximal results with minimal risks.
If you like this How To Do Squats- The Ultimate Guide article, please press the “like” and tweet buttons at the top of the article and leave a comment below.
If I receive enough feedback, I will do another “Ultimate Guide” article on the deadlift (or any other complex exercise or your choice), in the near future. Thanks!
Dedicated to your success,